Abortion is currently available on request during the first 24 weeks.
Until 1969, abortion legislation was based on British laws adopted in the 19th century. An abortion was permitted if performed in good faith to preserve the life of the woman.
Abortion was legalised in March 1970 and permitted abortion on broad medical, eugenic (disabilities, e.g. Down's Syndrome) and socio-economic grounds. Abortions on medical or eugenic grounds could be performed during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, while those on socio-economic grounds during the first 16 weeks. (Socio-economic reasons for an abortion can relate, mostly, to education, housing, employment, lack of support and money issues.)
In general, before an abortion was performed, the woman had to receive the approval of a board composed of 11 members (the Termination of Pregnancy Authorisation Board).
However, a doctor could perform an abortion without the Board's authorisation, if after consulting another doctor, both reached the conclusion that continuing the pregnancy would involve serious risk to the life of the woman, or serious injury to her physical or mental health. In each case, the Board was to be notified that the abortion had been performed within two weeks.
The 1970 law required the written consent of all married women regardless of their age, and of unmarried women that were at least 18 years old. Unmarried teenagers under 18, required the consent of their parents or guardians.
The 1974 Abortion Act abolished the Termination of Pregnancy Authorisation Board and set out the qualifications required of doctors, performing an abortion at different stages of pregnancy.
Alarmed by the implications of the serious declining birth rate, the Government introduced mandatory counselling in 1987, for both before and after the abortion. The idea was to provide information that might persuade the woman to continue with her pregnancy - and to discourage repeat abortions.